Constituted first in 1950 as the Ashoka Chakra , Class 1, this Medal was the highest awarded for gallantry away from the battlefield, or not in the face of the enemy. Renamed the Ashoka Chakra in 1967, over 60 such awards have been made since independence. Officers and Men on COIN operations, Civilians, Airline crew and even Russian Cosmonauts were awarded this medal in due recognition of thier gallantry. The Indian Air Force has till date recieved two Ashoka Chakra awards. The first was in 1953 to Flt Lt Suhas Biswas, the second was in 1984 to Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma.
Flight Lieutnant Suhas Biswas, 2883 GD(P)
Award Date : 3rd February 1952.
On the 3rd of February, 1952, The U. P. Area command of the Indian Army was holding a tactical Exercise in Lucknow. To Witness this Exercise, High ranking Army Officials decided to fly down to the Exercise to observe. The Then GOC-in-C Western Command Lt Gen S. M Shrinagesh (Later COAS) , The Quarter Master General Maj-Gen K. S . Thimayya (later COAS), The Chief of General Staff Maj Gen S. P. P. Thorat (later GOC-inC East), The Military Secretary Maj Gen Sarda Nand, Maj Gen Mohinder Singh Chopra and Brig Ajaib Singh boarded the IAF HQ and Communications Flight De Havilland Devon (HW 516) which was being flown by Flt Lt Suhas Biswas. The Devon reached Lucknow and after the exercises were completed, the Officers returned for the return flight to Delhi. The Devon took off at 1800 Hrs and moments after the aircraft took off, the Crew observed the port engine was spewing smoke and soon a fire broke out. The Devon became difficult to control and as the fire kept creeping towards the main fuselage, Biswas, the pilot put the Devon in a dive in an attempt to reduce altitude and attempt a crash landing before the aircraft fuel reserves caught fire and blew up. As the Devon was put into the dive, The Aircraft shuddered in the airflow and The Engine mounting broke away, resulting in the Burning Engine seperating from the wing and falling off. Biswas levelled the Aircraft and belly landed sucessfully at a village near the Sandilla Railway Station. All the occupants walked out of the crashed aircraft unhurt with the pilot being the last to leave.
Flt Lt Suhas Biswas awarded the First Ashoka Chakra to the Indian Air Force for the presence of mind, Skill and cool courage in maintaining the Stricken aircraft and saving the lives of many Senior Army Officers. Which included Two Future Army Chiefs and an Army Commander. The Air Force Chief, Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee, had had the passenger chairs removed from the wrecked Devon and presented it individually to each of the survivors of the crash with a Brass Plate mentioning the circumstances of the crash.
Flt Lt Biswas died Two Years later when his Dakota crashed in the Niligiri Hills.
Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma, 12396 F(P)
Award Date: August 1984
In a Nation , That idolises heroes only from Cinema and Cricket, Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma provided a change when he became the first Indian to venture into outer space in the Russian Space Ship Soyuz T-11. Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma was chosen out of hundreds of Aspirants to undergo training with the Russians as a part of their space programme and became the first Indian to achieve the distinction of going into the Outer Space. he spent some time on the Russian Space Station , The Salyut-7 before sucessfully returning back to Earth.
He immortalised himself in Indian History and made his way into many Indians hearts , by his anwser to the then PM Indira Gandhi’s Question on How India looked from Outer Space. He replied “Saare Jahan Se Achha” (The Best in the World). Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma was awarded the Ashoka Chakra, for the sucessful completion of the Space Mission. As were his companions on the Soyuz T-11 Mission, Col Yuri Vasilevish Malyzhev and Col Gennady Mikhailovich Strekalov, both Russians and the first and the only time, the Ashoka Chakra was awarded to foreigners.
Rakesh Sharma later joined HAL as a Test Pilot , which involved testing the various aircraft being manufactured at Ojhar near Nasik. He had a Providential Escape from a MiG-21 when he had to Eject. He retired from the airforce as a Wing Commander.